Despite more than 250 years of development, the passage of American shad Alosa sapidissima at dams and other barriers frequently remains problematic. Few improvements in design based on knowledge of the swimming, schooling, and migratory behaviors of American shad have been incorporated into passage structures. Large-scale technical fishways designed for the passage of adult salmonids on the Columbia River have been presumed to have good performance for American shad but have never been rigorously evaluated for this species. Similar but smaller fishway designs on the East Coast frequently have poor performance. Provision of effective downstream passage for both juvenile and postspawning adult American shad has been given little consideration in most passage projects. Ways to attract and guide American shad to both fishway entrances and downstream bypasses remain marginally understood. The historical development of passage structures for American shad has resulted in assumptions and paradigms about American shad behavior and passage that are frequently unsubstantiated by supporting data or appropriate experimentation. We propose that many of these assumptions and paradigms are either unfounded or invalid and that significant improvements to American shad upstream and downstream passage can be made via a sequential program of behavioral experimentation, application of experimental results to the physical and hydraulic design of new structures, and controlled tests of large-scale prototype structures in the laboratory and field.